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ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2017: Part One Written by on December 30, 2017 | 6 Comments

As another year comes to a close, its time for us here at ESC Insight, along with some friends of the parish, to look back through the musical tapestry of 2017 to bring you our favourite musical moments. Insight’s core team pick today, and our contributors will be here for part two tomorrow.

Ewan Spence

Ora Esisti Solo Tu, by Bianca Atzei

The album ‘Bianco e nero’ holds a singular honour in my musical collection this year. While there have been promo CDs at gigs and conferences that have ended up in my hold luggage, Bianca Atzei’s long player has been the only one that I have actively sought out and purchased in physical form. There have been many more where digital purchases have been made, or bookmarks in streaming services, but the italian singer is unique.

And that all comes down to her performances of ‘Ora Esisti Solo Tu’ at Sanremo 2017.

I’m always going to be biased about this year’s Italian Music Festival, because I was able to be in the Ariston Theatre for the whole week of rehearsals and the marathon performances. There were daily podcasts here on ESC Insight to showcase the curious nature of the Italian Contest… and there was the music in the auditorium. Thanks to the policy of not releasing the music until the first night of Sanremo, my first encounter with all of the Sanremo tracks was the Monday afternoon rehearsal (with all electronic devices banned, pen and paper only).

While ‘Ora Esisti Solo Tu’ wasn’t the top of my scorecard, it was the most ‘Italian’ song from Sanremo, it ticks all my boxes of language, style, emotion, and storytelling, and it has stood the test of time. It has stayed with me all year, and I don’t think it will ever leave me.

Lucky Stranger, by Sergey Lazarev

It may not have turned up in Kyiv, but Russia was an ever-present force during the 2016 Song Contest. There are multiple interpretations of its actions (I covered the topic earlier in the year), and we will never truly know if Yuliya Samolylova was chosen for musical potential or political mawkishness.

Following the close run finale of the Eurovision Song Contest, Sergey Lazarev gathered a huge number of European fans who started following his music. While it’s a relatively rare thing, I wonder if he would have considered an immediate rematch and return to the Song Contest in 2017? Unfortunately geo-politics got in the way, but anyone watching his discography will have spotted a curiously timed release on the 31st March with a ridiculous high-production value video following the next day.

Part of me continues to believe that a genuine entry from Russia would not have been ‘Flame is Burning’, but this track. Ladies and Gentleman, my earworm of the year… ‘Lucky Stranger’.

Okay the video is a  but it is up there with the best John Hughes 80s flicks in terms of character and setting. It breaks down into a wonderful three act structure (great for your three minute edit), and it shows off many aspects of its main asset, Sergey himself.

It also shows up the same flaws as ‘You Are The Only One’. There’s a reliance on a very simple melodic hook, the English-langauge lyrics are pretty superficial (although these are partially masked to me by my preference for the Russian language version), and it relies heavily on Sergey himself. Just like the 2016 entry, the video is a work of art that could never be fully transposed to a Eurovision stage, so much of the visual impact would be lost.

In every sense, ‘Lucky Stranger’ is the sequel to ‘You Are The Only One’, but the non-political Contest was denied this musical moment because… reasons.

John Egan

En värld full av strider, by Jon Henrik Fjällgren feat Aninia

My work sometimes brings me north during national final season. For 2017 I leapt at the chance to attend Eesti Laul (great national selection + Tallinn + outdoor public ice skating = win) at the beginning of March. I left the weekend following a meeting in Spain open as long as I could; eventually I had to lock in flights and decided to attend my first Melodifestivalen. Where there was a lot of meh—and to my mind a massive opportunity missed.

I appreciate the effort that goes into MelFest, but often have less appreciation for the music on offer. It’s usually polished and mostly very professional, but rather soulless (meh). There’s a great self-deprecating humour that comes across regardless of the level of one’s Swedish (mine is IKEA level): heaven knows I would appreciate RTÉ putting in half as much effort as SVT. But the flat public voting in this year’s final validated my sense of MelFest 2017 a national selection that both ticks all the requirements whilst fundamentally lacking substance, passion or engagement. Meh, in other words.

I didn’t listen to (m)any of the entries until the final lineup was confirmed. My reaction to seeing Jon-Henrik Fjällgren’s return was “where else can he take his joik?” His audition of Daniel’s Joik for the Swedish “Got Talent” franchise went viral in 2014. ‘Jag är fri (Manne leam frijje)’ made the genre work at MelFest 2015, without cheapening the tradition. Nothing would have stopped ‘Heroes‘ that year, but Fjällgren brought something unique, powerful and dignified to the Swedish selection.

One thing the SVT team understands is that the Eurovision is a television competition: for better or worse they make an effort to stage every Melfest entry optimally for the home viewers. This can make pedestrian scandipop seem amazing when it is in fact meh. For 2017, rather than just make ‘Jag är fri redux’, they brought in Aninia and created an entry that represented the intersection of Swedish and Sami cultures. It was magic. And it would have stood out in Kyiv—particularly since only a tiny number of the viewers of the Eurovision have been exposed to Melfest entries like ‘Jag är fri‘.

Instead the juries shoulder-tapped an excellent electropop track with a weak vocalist. And if Sweden is content to land in the top five and be stuck on six Eurovision titles for the foreseeable future, they should continue to pursue the safe route. I’m not convinced ‘En värld full av strider’ would have beaten ‘Amar Pelos Dois’, but it probably would have been in the top three. In hindsight, the producers of MelFest did not want ‘En värld full av strider’ to win: it opened its semi-final and was slotted in fifth in the final, right after ‘I Can’t Go On’.

What a squandered opportunity. Still bummed about it.

Yodel It, by Ilinca and Alex Florea

As is often the case, I first encountered Yodel It thanks to a certain hack of a blogger. Mr Hacksaw has a remarkable ability to identify noteworthy potential Eurovision entries months before they hit the mainstream. Yodelling meets hip-hop would not have entirely surprised me, were we discussing a potential Swiss, Austrian or even Slovenian entry—but Romania?

In hindsight there was a team behind Ilinca and Alex that had cracked the 21st century Eurovision success code. Bring something different. Perform it well. Stage it around the strengths of the singers. Entertain the audience. Illinca’s roots are in soul music, but she earned her place in the Voice of Romania franchise with I Wanna Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart:

Their “audition” performance for the Romanian national selection had already cracked it: what we saw on stage in Kyiv was a somewhat elevated version of what got them into their national final. Both Illinca and Alex could consistently deliver the vocal (try yodeling yourself if you think it’s easy). They weren’t over-choreographed. Just when the song might start to feel a bit samey-samey, the transitions from Illinca the yodeler to Ilinca the soul diva. And then she unleashes the yodel to end all yodels.

It should not work. But it’s often that which shouldn’t work that is brilliant in the Eurovision. Had there been glitter—analogue or digital—in their cannons, Yodel It might have landed in the top five. Though Alex’s rapey kiss very nearly spoilt it.

Sharleen Wright

‘I Can’t Go On’, by Robin Bengtsson

2017 is a year that I look back on not so fondly and potentially credit as possibly killing my interest in the  Eurovision Song Contest. However, I hold one song above all others as a moment of joy – and it’s that “fast food music without any content” track from the much-derided Melodifestivalen show. The one that John Egan above calls “meh”.

Yes, that guy with the dead eyes, Robin Bengtsson.

March this year marked the first time I actually ventured across the world to see the Swedish extravaganza, and armed my great seats directly behind the editing team side of stage amongst the hyped-up locals, it showed me that such a spectacle can still take my breath away and excite me greatly.

Behind me (ignoring Egans’ eye rolling) stood three generations of women perched on their chairs, dancing and singing along to Robin, and at that very second I was filled with a new appreciation of how big and important this really is to many people. I was swept into a smile and sense of joy I hadn’t felt in a long time. So thank you Melodifestivalen, Christer Bjorkman, SVT, Sweden, and Robin Bengtsson; you give me a glimmer of hope I will find my love for Eurovision again.

‘Spinning’, by Monatik

Having been forced to go elsewhere online this year to secure my viewings of the National Finals, I purchased a subscription to European cable channels – something not so simple in Australia. One dodgy Ukrainian purchase later, I found myself armed with over 600 channel choices including ‘Music Box’, the Russian and Ukrainian alternative to MTV, but with actual music clips. It quickly became my daily soundtrack and my knowledge of the Ukrainian music scene grew fast. Alongside the more familiar names of Alyosha, Tina Karol, Mariya Yaremchuk, Zlata, Ruslana, and current queen Loboda, there’s Alekseev, Max Barskih, Vremya i Steklo, and finally, Monatik, a Ukrainian r’n’b star whose track ‘Spinning’ was on heavy rotation throughout that National Final period.

I was therefore extremely pleased to discover that the same act and song would open the proceedings of Eurovision 2017 in Kyiv. A great opening with modern flavour, he did not disappoint, and left many in attendance keen to download the track – which is still on high rotation in my house. There would be no surprises for me, given Ukraine’s history to send its very best artists, that Monatik (and others I have listed above), will be coming to the competition stage in the near future.

John Paul Lucas

‘Requiem’, by Alma

The French have barely had more luck than the UK at Eurovision over the past fifteen years or so, but one thing they’ve (almost) always managed to retain is a clear sense of national identity in their entries. By combining this with a modern, chart-friendly sensibility in 2016 they finally discovered a formula that worked for them and they continued in this vein with their entry for Kyiv.

I loved ‘Requiem‘ from the first time I heard it. It’s seductive, mysterious and enchanting, with dramatic production touches that echo popular French hitmakers like Indila and Louane. Even the inevitable ‘Franglish’ remix ended up boosting the song in all the right places, even if some of the translated lyrics were a touch clunky.

And yet, in the build up to the Grand Final, I – along with the majority of the press room – was convinced France were doomed to a return to the bottom five. Was the staging too bare and unimaginative? Was the song too radio to stand out against so many obviously performative entries? Would closing the show immediately following hot favourites Belgium, Sweden and Bulgaria make it feel like an afterthought?

And yet, for reasons I still can’t quite wrap my head around, ‘Requiem’ connected. Not to the degree that Amir’s ‘J’ai cherché’ did the previous year, admittedly, but enough to score a top ten finish on the televote and a respectable 12th place overall. There’s still a whiff of unfulfilled potential around ‘Requiem’, but ultimately a good song is a good song, and sometimes that’s enough.

‘A Million Years’, by Mariette

As usual, I thought Sweden found themselves with an embarrassment of riches to choose from at Melodifestivalen 2017, and in Robin Bengtsson they made a smart, respectable choice that was rewarded accordingly by the juries and televoters.

However, my heart was always with this entry from Mariette. It’s less instantly striking than her 2015 entry ‘Don’t Stop Believing‘, and would possibly have been a little too subtle to crack the top five in Kyiv, but it’s got its hooks into me to the extent that it’s probably my favourite song of 2017 inside or outside the Eurovision bubble.

A gently rhythmic hymn to unconditional love, ‘A Million Years’ is warm, hopeful and empathetic, while also retaining that uniquely Nordic undercurrent of melancholy. At first, my one complaint about the song was that it felt as though it’s abrupt ending was clumsily truncated to fit the three minute mark, but over time I’ve come to really appreciate the way it ends on an unresolved, ambiguous note.

It’s not a power ballad in the traditional sense – she’s not spilling her guts out at maximum volume or demanding equivalent devotion from the subject of the song. It’s a simple, emotionally generous statement of love that demands nothing in return. It’s not all that common to find complex emotional shading in a Eurovision song, but in its way ‘A Million Years’ is as layered and sincere as ‘Amar pelos dois’ – and it has a danceable BPM. Who says those things have to be mutually exclusive?

Ellie Chalkley

Line‘, by Triana Park

If you’re going to do something, go all in and keep going. Whether it works out or not, give it everything you’ve got. Triana Park tried to represent Latvia in Eurovision five times since 2008, and finally in 2017 their sleek house-influenced song ‘Line’ gave them the victory in Supernova. It’s a song that isn’t particularly typical of Triana Park’s output, in fact, here’s what I said about it back in April,

It’s not like a rock song, it’s more like a Robyn song. I love the build up of tension that comes just before the first big dance break and the ecstatic rave catharsis as it hits – well, this is absolutely what the contest needs. Then to go back to a subdued verse and build up again? Dynamically, it’s as good as Euphoria.

But Triana Park are a rock band and they brought their full rock band stage presence to the Eurovision stage, which is ultimately what lead to their non-qualification for the Grand Final in May. The first signs that Triana Park weren’t about to compromise their performance style came in the Supernova final, where Agnes’ vocals didn’t quite live up to the dynamic, edgy quality of the studio version. I was very much excited by the ravey neon of their Supernova staging, and I hoped that would carry through to the big stage.

Another of this year’s running themes surfaced in the official video for ‘Line’ – cultural appropriation. In the video clip, the band perform ‘Line’ in moody black and white, with Agnes dressed in a series of elaborate costumes. She begins the song in a gown and headdress that recalls the traditional dress of the Baltic region and ends the song in a giant faux fur coat with long blonde braids, but it is the middle section where she performs tai chi style moves while wearing a kimono and geisha-style makeup that changes the shape of her eyes to give her an Asian appearance that caused consternation. I wrote an introduction to the concept of cultural appropriation, looking at ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ and Kerli’s Eesti Laul song ‘Spirit Animal’ as examples. Whether it was the accusations of clumsy cultural appropriation or that it was just not part of the plan, we never saw this imagery again in Triana Park’s Eurovision campaign.

I was so excited by ‘Line’ and the idea of a ravey neon rock song at Eurovision, that when it came to their performance at London Eurovision Party, I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to give it all that I could and keep going. I took a handbag full of glowsticks into the Cafe de Paris and distributed them around the crowd as the four to the floor beat of ‘Line’ swelled. It looks pretty nice on the video, and it felt marvellous to be helping add a little bit more fun to an already awesome night.

I did the glowstick thing again for Triana Park’s Semi Final performances. I was down the front in the fan zone for the jury semi and the live semi, and my glowing handiwork is visible in the crowd shots for a few seconds. Mum, I was on the telly. Sort of. But no amount of glowsticks could remedy a stage performance that combined a distractingly overaccessoried stage outfit, baffling monsters displayed on the LED screen, shouted vocals and an incident where the iconic Latvian Freedom monument was mistaken for graffiti of a gentleman’s region.

We say we want authenticity in our Eurovision performances, but for some artists, their authentic performance style doesn’t fit with the level of slickness we expect. But, you know, we’ll always have that terrifically exciting studio version. And the glowsticks still work with that.

‘Is This Love?, by Da∂i Freyr

Iceland continue to beguile and delight me with Songvakeppnin. The 2017 batch was particularly fun, with two spooky and chilly takes on tropical house, adorability from HILDUR, Svala finding the midpoint between Robyn and Pat Benatar, a few big duets and the inevitable wee lasses with massive voices. But there’s always a fun outside shot in Songvakeppnin, and this year I fell a little bit in love with it.

Is This Love?’ is the story of the mating dance of introverts. It’s looking up from your shoes to meet the eye of someone else who is finding the current loud bar/club situation as you are. It’s recognising the oblique Douglas Adams references in someone’s chat. It’s talking to each other in late night chats and private messages, because you’re so nervous and excited that you know that talking with your mouths on the phone is going to go very wrong. It’s falling in love, but falling as if you were tripping over your own shoelaces.

Da∂i Freyr is probably not as much of an introvert as his character in the song. His charming performing style and playful covers on Facebook livestreams show a different character. I was intrigued. Looking into his back catalogue, I heard his work as part of Mixophrygian – rhythmically exciting electro with beautiful videos shot in Iceland – and was enchanted. I definitely wanted Da∂i to win.

In the real world, I didn’t think it was actually going to even come close to winning, so when Da∂i came second behind the powerful voice and presentation of Svala, I was actually quite happy with the result. I don’t think there was any rancour at the result, as Da∂i quickly turned out a superb remix of Svala’s ‘Paper‘ and busied himself creating more music. He followed up ‘Is This Love?’ with the fabulously complex shape-throwing of ‘Naesta Skref’ and an EP of chilled but technical electronic music. He’s back in Iceland now, after spending some years studying in Germany. I hope we see more of him as a performer, songwriter and producer, because he’s really, really good.

Samantha Ross

‘City Lights’, by Blanche

Ever since Roberto Bellarosa took to the stage in Malmö, Walloon broadcaster RTBF has dug deep and found a well of solid Eurovision performances by fresh-faced young talent. Moving on from Loïc Nottet’s brilliantly slick and modern ‘Rhythm Inside’ in 2015, the nation (or, at the very least, half of it) was finding its stride after years of wandering in the woods with a capella groups, Elvis impersonators, and a misguided attempt at disco-funk. For 2017, the pressure was on to continue that upward trend.

Blanche, then only 17 years old, was fresh off of a brief run on The Voice when she was coronated as Belgium’s pick for Kyiv last November. Undoubtedly talented, yet still relatively untested, it was tough to gauge what kind of song she’d sing. She didn’t have a stunning viral moment like Loïc’s ‘Chandelier‘ cover, or a local hit like Roberto’s rendition of ‘Jealous Guy‘. Blanche was an optimistically-inclined risk, but when ‘City Lights‘ was released in March, all doubts were dashed. A sleek, modern, radio-friendly song that played into the unique strength of Blanche’s rich, deep voice, it had just enough of a beat to keep the pop fans happy, while still retaining enough minimalist indie cred to keep it anything but ordinary.

And then we started to see the cracks.

For every five lions we see on stage at Eurovision, there’s a lamb. Every time you see a polished interview with a showbiz veteran, remember that there’s a young, insecure teenager out there watching and thinking “maybe I’ll never be that good/cool/talented/beloved”. Most of us have the luxury of dealing with our insecurities in the privacy of our own heads, but seventeen-year-old Blanche (or should we say Ellie Delvaux?) had to battle that feeling in front of millions, with the hopes of a nation on her shoulders. She took to the stage for her first rehearsals with frayed nerves, a quavering voice, and more than a few tears, bless her little heart. The press who observed this took notice, and the entry went quickly from “fan favorite” to “this may struggle to qualify”.

And then I witnessed a miracle.

Our friends at ESCXtra host a livestream from the press centre every year, where artists and journalists can have direct contact with fans in a fast paced, interactive setting. Most of the time, an artist will plop themselves into the chair next to the host (generally speaking, Wivian Kristiansen or Brent Davidson, although the cast of characters may change) and answer a few quick questions from viewers before being whisked away to a more traditional interview or photo op.

As far too many of us know, the internet can potentially be dark and full of terrors. Trolls who feed on negativity and discomfort seem to outweigh the most positive voices in a forum. Even if only one comment in a dozen is negative, that will almost always be the voice that stays with a person. When I saw Blanche sitting down for a livestream session for the first time, I was completely prepared for the young singer to have her heart broken by someone saying something, anything, negative. Blanche, however, was met with the purest, kindest, most supportive love I’ve ever seen in an internet-based setting. She was flooded with encouragement from people from all over the world, and for the first time in over a week, I not only saw Blanche grin, but crack full-on smiles. Affirmations that yes, she was worthy of the challenge ahead of her absolutely bolstered her confidence and allowed her to take on the world. Before the fortnight was over, she popped onto the livestream a few more times just to drink in the positivity, and in the end, she continued Belgium’s ongoing success story, tying Loïc’s 4th place finish from 2015 and even surpassing ‘Rhythm Inside‘ in chart success.

She was all alone in the danger zone, and we were ready to take her hand.

Earth Smiles (Hope for the Best)‘, by Alexander Search

An artist, no matter the medium, has to embrace change and metamorphosis. No actor wants to get typecast, no sculptor wants to be carving the same forms ad infinium, and no singer wants to perform the same song a thousand times. Salvador Sobral has been no exception. After dipping his toes into the pop music factory that reality TV provided, and finding it didn’t fit, he fled to another country to hone his skills in jazz, eventually returning to Lisbon and releasing ‘Excuse Me’, which feels like a sampler platter of the genre, ranging from Jamie Cullum-esque pop-jazz of the title track to a lighthearted rendition of the century-old ‘After You’ve Gone’ to his soulful take on Brazilian bossa nova classic ‘Nem Eu‘.

Enough praise has been heaped upon ‘Amar Pelos Dois’, a song that was so impeccably constructed, yet still managed to feel organic and natural…I’ll pull back my reins before I go off on another ardent tangent about this year’s winner.

As we all settled into our post-Eurovision routines, I was delighted to learn about the existence of Alexander Search, a project that had been in the works prior to Salvador’s launch into the Eurovision stratosphere. A collaboration between a number of talented artists (including Júlio Resende, who we shall see at Festival de Canção 2018 as a composer, if not a performer in his own right). Taking the English-language poetry of one of Portugal’s most acclaimed writers, Fernando Pessoa (or, it should be said, of one of his many heteronyms), and setting his ninety-year-old lyrics to modern music, Sobral, Resende, and the rest of the band had the freedom to experiment and play, while still honoring one of their nations most famous literary sons. This is highlighted even further by the fact that all of the members of the band use heteronyms and new personas of their own…we’re not hearing Salvador here, it’s Benjamin Cymbra.

There were many tracks that I could have picked for this article: the comforting ‘A Day of Sun’, the atmospheric ‘To A Moralist’, or even the grungy, gritty ‘Solomon Waste’. But for me, ‘Earth Smiles (Hope for the Best)’ stands out. A four-line poem turns into a slightly funky little jam session with that unmistakable voice preaching a repeated mantra with a universal application…hope for the best, for the worst prepare. Whether in art or in life (as Salvador himself could probably attest to over the past year), have a plan, have faith, have optimism, but be prepared to be hit with adversity. The unexpected twists and turns may lead you to your next step forward.

Ah, you expected me to put Kristian Kostov’s ‘Beautiful Mess‘ on here, didn’t you? (I’ve said more than my fair share on my love and appreciation for Bulgaria’s silver medalist, and, technically speaking, my boss in Kyiv… just check out my Eurovision Castaways piece for more). 

Jon Jacob

Fly, by Artsvik

If the Eurovision Song Contest was my other half in a long-term relationship, then it and I would be going through a testing time right now: one of us is becoming increasingly dependent on large crowds to boost its ego; the other prefers isolation and quiet reflection and wishes it could just be the way it was when they first met.

As the Song Contest has grown in popularity over the past years, so it and I have grown apart. But, there are tracks that have the potential to send a lifesaving charge coursing through the body. Artsvik’s ‘Fly With Me’ was one of those this year.

Armenia’s song was arresting on a first listen – a tantalising hint of excitement yet to come when it was first released by Universal at the end of March. Taught and balanced with a suave and seductive lilt, the charmingly modest ‘Fly With Me’ started Eurovision for me this year. It made Kiev an unexpected prospect. It was the song that got me engaged with the contest when I feared I wouldn’t be.

It’s actually one of only a few songs that have competed in this competition that I loved, but didn’t expect to win, nor want to win. It secured its place in the final. It looked OK on stage without looking over the top. It didn’t come last.

But its ultimate triumph was the way it lasted beyond Eurovision. It’s integrity in terms of production still shines. Seven months on I still don’t tire of listening to it. In fact, listening to it still manages to conjure up some happy memories of a monumental year both for the contest, and for me.

Grab the Moment, by Jowst

It wasn’t an especially uplifting presentation. Actually. Let’s be honest. It was fairly drab. Even with the LED face masks and the well-intentioned pounding of the electronic drum kits appeared hauntingly still on the Eurovision stage in Kiev for Norway.

The song’s tenth place in the final voting table seems now, six months on like a sound result for a song whose place in Norway’s National Final and subsequent Eurovision was a demonstration of commitment, determination and crowdsourced collaboration.

Musically it has enough grit about it to withstand the fickleness of this post-Eurovision fan though doesn’t have the musical resilience Artsvik’s ‘Fly With Me’ does.

But what really makes this song resonate for me are the lyrics Jonas McDonnell ended up writing for the song. Get it right and Eurovision promises the platform for three minutes, an opportunity to communicate something naff, something powerful, or something lasting.

At a time when mental health and wellbeing still needs to be normalised, it was reassuring to see creative individuals commit to anxiety issues in a plausible way.

It’s also a great track to jog to. No surprises there, I suppose.

Lisa-Jayne Lewis

Space, by Slavko

This had to be my first choice for my Musical Moments of 2017. I smile every time it rolls around on my playlist because the song has created such great memories for me for this year and I have gained a dear friend for life in its singer Slavko Kalezic.

When Slavko was invited to perform at the London Eurovision Party back in April, I was there to provide hair and make up support to all the artist before their performances and ended chatting for ages with Slavko that day and evening and did the braid (for the first time – there have been many braiding occurrences since then, including ‘that’ one on The X-Factor!). That night we became friends. Our friendship made Eurovision in Kyiv really special for me, but what was to follow I could never have imagined in a million years.

Fast-forward to World Pride in Madrid where Slavko asked if I would go and do his braid and styling for the shows where he would perform Space as well as a few other songs, this lead to both of us having what can only be described as a Eurovision Nirvana moment as we sat on the back of the stage with Conchita watching Loreen perform ‘Euphoria’ to 150,000 people! It also saw me turn to a complete mush when fate lead me to styling LeKlein for the Gala Finale that night, the woman I had been melting over since ‘Ouch!’ was released as a contender for the Spanish National Final!

And of course then there is The X Factor, I was at every stage with Slavko, including the first meeting at Freemantle Media, just a couple of weeks after Eurovision then the Judges Auditions, Bootcamp (sneaking into his hotel room to fix the braid!) Arena Auditions, Six-Chair-Challenge (which is brutal!) and then the night before he flew off to South Africa for Judges Houses.

So whilst this song started out for me as an acceptable disco banger of no real significance, it has quite simply changed my life and given me a new friend (friends actually, it has bought me into contact with so many other new friends), new experiences and new focus for my own life – not bad for a song that crashed out of the Semi-finals in 16th place!

Suile Glasa, by Muirean McDonnell

Tbilisi 2017 was was only my second Junior Eurovision on the ground and only the third I have ever watched – before then I was firmly in the ‘oh God, stage-y annoying kids singing’ camp. Well all that has changed and now I cannot imagine for a second not being at Junior Eurovision. For my second song I’ve picked Ireland’s entry ‘Suile Glasa’ by Muireann McDonnell, because really it was Muireann and her family who really made this years JESC so special to me.

Firstly there is Muireann herself and what a truly inspirational young woman she is. She is fearless, she stood on that stage in Tbilisi challenging the watching continent what it means to be a female artist. She doesn’t wear dresses, has short hair dyed purple and ties back in mini bunches and wears lilac glittery DM boots; a far cry from what is ‘expected’ from little girls on stage. Despite the numerous things said about her, that (a) shouldn’t matter anyway and (b) are no one else’s business and, while I’m at it (c) are totally inappropriate to be being spoken of in a singing contest, especially when talking about a child (sorry, I’ll climb off this soapbox) Muireann just carried on singing her song.

Secondly the song, written by Muireann and her music teacher James and his brother Robert (both delightful Irish boys who also travelled to Tbilisi to be there with Muireann) is brilliant. It’s simple and completely unexpected in the Junior Eurovision world which is perhaps why it didn’t garner many points on the night. But that doesn’t really matter, it is a song that I adore and this one also makes me smile when it comes round on the playlist, because I love it and I can’t wait for more music from Muireann in the future.

Her Mum, who also I became friends with and who else I admire no-end for the unwavering support of her daughter’s goal to be a singer, often wrote of her as ‘Our purple-haired Irish glitter fairy’, I challenge that, she is no glitter fairy, she is a glitter warrior, forging a way for other girls who like football (Gaelic or otherwise!) and sparkly things in equal measure – the future is bright, the future is… purple!

We’re Not Finished!

ESC Insight is more than our  core team of writers, so naturally the call for Musical Moments went out to many of the ‘friends of the parish’ who contribute throughout the year, from Juke Box Juries and daily podcasts to articles and opinions. Want to know what they thought of the year of music? Read part two of ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2017… tomorrow!

And if you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page,

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (

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6 responses to “ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2017: Part One”

  1. Matthew Osullivan says:

    Go Lisa for being the only one in the core group to champion juniors in this years review. I wonder who is going to champion juniors in part 2?

  2. Eric Graf says:

    “Ora Esisti Solo Tu” is my absolute favorite song of 2017, from anywhere, period. It must’ve been unimaginably magnificent in the hall!

    It’s also the best argument I’ve ever heard against the “loudness wars” that are still infecting so many new releases. The studio version (at least the one from the iTunes store) is a constipated, distorted mess compared to the live audio from San Remo – in particular neutering the huge Phil-Spectorian bass growl that underpinned the orchestral arrangement. She sang it better live too. Check it out:

  3. Jake says:

    Sharleen, I’m confused and saddened in why you lost faith in Eurovision this year?

  4. Jake, there is actually an article in that.
    The text has been written, but its up to the team to release it for your reading pleasure.

  5. Shai says:

    Samantha Ross’ story about Blanche, was a joy to read.
    Unfortunately not all people covering the contest, gave her the same treatment.

    Without giving any names, during the coverage of this year’s contest, there was one person who was simply mean in the way he wrote about her. It came to the point that this person wanted her to fail badly and had no problem to contentiously pointing out how bad she is and how she can’t sing well. Needless to say that when Blanche qualified, this person wasn’t the happiest in the world.

    It made for a bitter reading and showed no respect to Blanche as a singer/person.

  6. […] of a conversation from the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, and something I said during my ‘Musical Moments’ piece on ESC Insight a few weeks ago. In that I was talking about Murieann McDonnell from […]

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